photo: Jack Flaherty (Jeff Curry/Imagn)
Over the years, there had been an orderly progression of the responsibility of being the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation. From Chris Carpenter to Adam Wainwright to Carlos Martinez, went the progression.
However, the onset of Martinez’ shoulder problems in 2018 left the ownership of that title in limbo. Miles Mikolas had a solid first year with St. Louis, but was ordinary in 2019.
With an amazing second half that was recognized by a fourth place finish in the 2019 National League Cy Young Award balloting and 13th place in the Most Valuable Player vote, then-23-year old Jack Flaherty staked his claim to that ace title.
Many knew the right-hander would be good, but the extent of his emergence surprised others.
Despite the pedigree of having been a first-round draft pick as a California high schooler, Flaherty was considered a good prospect, but not national top 100 material while coming up through the minor leagues. In fact, the year before he made his MLB debut, Baseball America did not even include him among their top 10 Cardinals prospects.
After a final month cup of coffee in 2017, Flaherty performed well for St. Louis in 2018, finishing fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting on the heels of a 3.34 ERA over 28 starts.
In 2019, Flaherty really came into his own in the second half, bursting into national prominence. He was the best pitcher in the National League during that time, winning the league’s Pitcher of the Month award in both August and September. Flaherty logged the third-lowest ERA (0.91) in MLB history in at least 15 starts after the All-Star break, behind Jake Arrieta (0.75 – 2015 Cubs) and Greg Maddux (0.87 – 1994 Braves).
Flaherty was not just good after the break. He was strong all season long. He led the 2019 Cardinals staff in starts (33), quality starts (20), innings pitched (196 1/3) and innings per start (6.0), while receiving the least run support from the offense (4.2 runs per start, tied with Mikolas).
Further, among Cardinals starters, Flaherty had the lowest ERA (2.75), lowest FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching at 3.46), lowest WHIP (0.97), lowest opponent marks in all four slash stat categories (.192/.256/.335/.591), most strikeouts (231) and highest strikeout rate (10.6 per nine). In fact, the latter is a new all-time team record. Flaherty came in second (to Mikolas) in walk rate (2.5 per nine) and K/BB ratio (4.2).
If that wasn’t enough, Flaherty’s overall value as measured in Wins Above Replacement (according to Fangraphs) at 4.7 was the same as the next-best two starters, Mikolas and Wainwright, combined.
Across the National League, Flaherty was among the leaders in most mound categories. They include ERA (4th), starts (T3rd), innings pitched (8th), WHIP (T1st), opponent BA (1st), opponent OBP (1st), opponent SLG (3rd), opponent OPS (2nd), fewest hits/9 IP (1st), fewest baserunners/9 IP (1st), strikeouts (6th), strikeouts/9 IP (9th), strikeouts/batters faced (5th) and quality starts (T6th),
No matter how you measure it, Jack Flaherty was an ace in 2019 – and he may hold that title for many years to come.
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